If you were a student in 2019 in the West Jefferson Hills, Pennsylvania school district, then you already know that newly-acquired DE Chase Winovich is a great guy. Because he paid off your school lunch debt in full.
It seems that during the Christmas break in Winovich’s rookie year with the New England Patriots, he was looking for a way to give back to his high school, Thomas Jefferson High School located in Jefferson Hills, Pennsylvania. That idea became something bigger when he included the entire school district and paid off all the debt for the area’s free and reduced lunch programs.
You see, he already had the Santa in him. Seems that he played Santa Claus back in his fifth grade class’ holiday show.
The Browns traded for the talented EDGE rushing defender this off-season to play defensive end or maybe even linebacker. In March, Cleveland LB Mack Wilson was shipped off to the New England Patriots straight up for Winovich.
In 2019, the Patriots drafted Winovich out of Michigan in the third round.
The trade will bring in another talented pass rusher, plus place Winovich that much closer to his hometown which is now under three hours away. Oh yeh, and smack in the middle of Pittsburgh Steelers country. Plus, his brother Peter lives in Toledo.
“I’ve seen a couple of people from my hometown publicly display this dilemma of having to root for the Steelers, and having a neighbor or friend or high school teammate,” Winovich said on WTAE.com. “There’s a bit of a conundrum for them.”
It’s one thing for Winovich to be playing in the East, but now he is in the same division as the Steelers playing against them.
Winovich (6’-3”, 250 pounds) played little league football in his hometown of Jefferson Hills. At age nine, he asked his father to videotape his games so that he could study the film afterwards.
He played quarterback and middle linebacker at Thomas Jefferson High School as he wore #15. While he had height, he was only 215 pounds.
Thomas Jefferson was a run-first offense to which Winovich only passed 29 times for 210 yards with three touchdowns his senior year. But he gained 981 yards rushing, scored 16 touchdowns for 96 points for a team that finished 11-1-0 in Division 3A. The lone loss was 23-13 to Central Valley in the first round of the state playoffs.
While he waited his turn on offense, on defense he was placed on the varsity as a freshman. In four years he had 149 total tackles, 22 sacks, five batted passes, eight fumble recoveries, three interceptions and six forced fumbles.
In high school he was voted “Most Interesting Player.” He once ate a live fish for 20 bucks. He dated Madonna’s daughter and was friends with UFC champion Conor McGregor.
He had numerous offers as a four-star recruit including Pitt, Michigan State, Michigan, Arkansas, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Miami. Nationally he was ranked #89 by 247sports.com.
This all came from a kid who in junior high tripped over a garbage can on his parent’s front steps and suffered a fractured skull and subdural hematoma due to the fall. While in the eighth grade, his guidance counselor advised not to pursue professional sports as a feasible occupation.
After his senior year he was selected to play in the 2014 Offense-Defense All-American Bowl. He actually grew up an Ohio State fan and had lots of scarlet and gray memorabilia including an Ohio State flag that hung in his room. He made official visits to Columbus as well as Ann Arbor. Both made offers. His visit to Michigan included a home game of over 115,000 fans.
Winovich almost said yes on the spot when Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer made an offer. But he paused for one reason – he really connected to Michigan head coach Brady Hoke. At the time, he stated this on mlive.com:
“(Hoke) is just so down to Earth. He’s real. You come across coaches, and they seem fake - and I won’t say any names. But you do come across coaches like that, and you don’t get that vibe from them. That feeling of knowing that you can have a connection with a coach that makes you want to spend the next few years playing for him.”
And when Michigan officially made Winovich an offer on June 1, he committed on the spot as Michigan’s first signee.
For Michigan, they received a very athletic linebacker who could play coverage and was a beast against the run able to get into the offensive backfield and make plays with excellent speed. Plus, Winovich was all about winning.
And with that, Winovich made it his goal to make Michigan a better defensive football team.
“My goal isn’t necessarily to play as early as I can, it’s to be the best player and contributor I can be for Michigan,” Winovich said. “And however I have to do it, I’ll do it. If I have to do it carrying water out or running down a kickoff and crushing someone or playing outside linebacker - however I can contribute, that’s what I’ll do. And I’ll do it to the best of my ability.”
He redshirted as a freshman then played mainly on special teams and some tight end early on until his junior year when he became the starter at defensive end when senior starter Taco Charlton went down with an injury. He had 73 total tackles, 8.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 19 tackles for loss.
Winovich began getting noticed as a talented athlete, very physical, high-motor, aggressive guy that’s a good football player with a positive outlook and a very good work ethic.
He became a darling with reporters asking each their name every time he was interviewed. And while he received quite a bit of accolades along the way, he was quick to offer praise to his fellow defensive players. At season’s end, he was named First Team All-Big 10 and Second Team All-American.
Winovich seemed willing to do whatever it took to improve. That included taking a ballet class in the off-season for 20+ lessons to help with his agility and balance. In addition, he studied Ju-jitsu. He is also big into meditation.
As a senior he established himself as one of the best defensive ends in the country. His stats include 59 total tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, one fumble recovery and five sacks. Winovich again was named First Team All-Big 10 and Second Team All-American.
He majored in evolutionary anthropology at Michigan.
At the combine, he was clocked in the 40 with a 4.59 time, had a 30.5 vertical jump with a 116 in the broad jump.
The story on him was that he was a boom-or-bust prospect.
Scouting report on NFL.com:
“Physical edge defender who plays the game like he has zombie blood pumping through his veins. Winovich is relentless, determined and takes no plays off, but his lack of physical traits and explosiveness as a rusher could limit his upside. Scheme fit could determine his role as 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 rush linebacker, but his football character and physicality improve his odds for success as an eventual starter.”
Onto the NFL
In 2019, Winovich was selected in the third round of the NFL draft by the defense-heavy Patriots. He inked a four-year deal worth $3.83 million.
His Twitter handle is @Wino.
As a rookie, he impressed the Patriots with his high-motor and consistency. Fans also embraced him for the long blond hair flowing freely from under his helmet.
While in his rookie training camp, QB Tom Brady sneaked up on the rook on the sideline and, brandishing a pair of scissors, snipped away. There was minimal damage, but Winovich realized how many NFL players get a barber experience from one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time?
Winovich the rookie did not have any starts, but played in all 16 games. He eventually was able to get in on the defensive line rotation to which he had 5.5 sacks and 26 total tackles along with 10 QB hits plus four tackles for loss. His second season he started nine games on the defense with 48 total tackles with 5.5 sacks.
Through the first nine games of his rookie campaign, he had matched his scouting report.
Year 3 was supposed to be his breakout year, but he began training camp on the PUP list with an undisclosed injury. Winovich returned to action in August.
However, things did not go as planned for both Winovich and the defense. Through the first six games, he had just seven tackles, one quarterback hit and zero sacks in 78 defensive snaps. His greatest contribution was on special teams as he played 75 snaps in the kicking game.
Winovich then suffered a hamstring injury in the second half of the Week 6 matchup against Dallas. Winovich limped to the locker room and was listed as questionable to return then ruled out. Two days later he was placed on IR.
He returned to practice on November 11. Upon his return he faced stiff competition for snaps from EDGE rushers Matt Judon, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins who all had picked up the slack while he returned from his injury.
At one point Winovich had just one game with six defensive snaps and went three games without seeing the field on defense at all mainly regulated to special teams. By season’s end, he had just 11 total tackles, one QB hit and zero sacks and tackles for loss. The Patriots even made him inactive for their loss to Buffalo in the Wild Card playoff round in January.
New life in Cleveland
It is very rare when two NFL clubs trade off single players outright. But that is what happened with Winovich for Wilson. Each player with their respective teams had been playing reduced roles last year and each is now eager to regain some playing time during the final season of a rookie contract.
Winovich got the news while working out at the Patriots facility.
“You have two players that I think will benefit from a change of scenery,” stated Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski in late March during the NFL owners meetings in Palm Beach, Florida.
The situation with Cleveland was perfect for Winovich. Last year’s starting left defensive end Jadeveon Clowney wasn’t re-signed although he had an offer from the Browns. The coaching staff asked Winovich to bulk up to which he has added 15 pounds.
Winovich explained on the Akron Beacon Journal:
“It’s the heaviest I’ve weighed in probably three years, the strongest I’ve probably ever been. So I have a lot to be optimistic about, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m just very thankful that the Cleveland Browns believe in me, and I certainly have been putting in the work and effort to make sure that I’m prepared come season. I’m just really fired up to be here.”
At age 27, he is still a very young football player.
What needs to improve are his sack totals. After registering 5.5 sacks in each of his two seasons, he had zero last year. The Browns’ front office and coaching staff have confidence that he will rebound and become a pass rushing force.
The Browns last season tied for ninth in the NFL with 43 sacks.
Since the trade Winovich has been putting in the work and effort to make certain that he is fully prepared for the upcoming season. His hopes is a starting position, or perhaps a shared starting role. He does feel that being in Cleveland is the best football move for him.
From the time he was traded, Winovich was penciled in as the Browns starting defensive end opposite Myles Garrett. That recently changed when the club re-signed Clowney.
Or did it?
The Browns’ coaching staff, including defensive line coach Chris Kiffin, has let it be known that they are going into training camp with an open mind for that starting position. This means Winovich is not suddenly regulated to being Clowney’s backup.
And he has proved he can get after the quarterback.
“I feel I have gone through a lot of personal growth and development and that sort of thing is top of the measure especially for a football player,” he said in an interview with Browns’ radio analyst Nathan Zegura. “On a physical note I will be getting better and more athletic. I hope to reap the fruit of all this hard work this fall.”
One thing that has changed is he cut his trademark blonde locks.
Parting ways with the flow today. ✂️ “Goodbye for now…” ✌— Chase Winovich (@Wino) March 12, 2022
The latest addition of DC Joe Woods’ defense is looking to be more of a difference-maker on that side of the ball than he was in New England, where his role was mostly on special teams and as a situational pass rusher.
Now, Winovich is seen as a rotational pass rusher behind Garrett and competition to supplant Clowney.
This means Browns fans could see Winovich assume a larger-than-expected role this season.